Convening with Nature for just two hours a week can work wonders for your mood, a new study has found.
A pilot scheme in Cornwall prescribed a weekly dose of oceans, forests or other natural environments to patients suffering from depression and reported a 69 per cent improvement in their sense of well-being in just three months.
The 48 patients were split into groups and exposed to Nature in a variety of ways – but always in weekly sessions of between two and three hours and involving social contact with other patients.
Jump in wellbeing
At the start of the pilot the patients had an average reading of 27.6 on the benchmark wellbeing index – well below the UK average of 50.7.
But by the end of the programme this had leapt by 19 points – or 69 per cent – to 46.6, just below the national average, said Exeter University’s Dr Dan Bloomfield, who led the study.
The programme was so effective because it combined the benefits of getting into Nature with those from social interaction, getting people out of the house and into a therapeutic environment with other people, he said.
Dr Bloomfield is now seeking to introduce a scheme across Cornwall that would see GPs prescribing does of Nature to some patients as a matter of routine.
“The improvement in patients’ wellbeing was remarkable. A lot of GPS find themselves faced with patients who might come in 10, 12, 15 times a year who are basically just suffering from social isolation,” he told i.
“But there’s not so much they can do really after they’ve prescribed anti-depressants or given them advice to get more exercise or statins. Ultimately GP surgeries are not places for providing that kind of social care because they only have 10 minute consultations and are under incredible stress financially,” he added.
One of the participants, from the Bodriggy Surgery in the west Cornish town of Hayle, said: “I suffer with mental health issues and it has helped me enormously: it’s kind of like a breath of fresh air in a way, you see things differently and you forget your worries for the day, which is good.”
“Talking to others who have gone through similar experiences such as myself has also helped me very much with my mental state. All round it’s been a definite benefit,” they added.
Split into groups
The groups were split between woodland areas, coastal zones, agriculture and urban parks and all involved some physical activity that helped to connect them into the environment.
Some groups in the pilot focussed on walking and others involved conservation activities, such as maintaining woodlands. And some had a silent or meditative element, he said.
The participants rated their sense of wellbeing before and after the pilot using the standard Warwick and Edinburgh Mental Well Being Scale.
Dr Bloomfield noted that the study size was fairly small but says the results still clearly demonstrate that exposure to Nature is having a positive impact on patients lives that warrants further investigation.
His research has been accepted for publication by the British Journal of Psychiatry but has not yet been published.
Nichola Berridge from the village of Grampound in Cornwall:
“Having undergone major spinal surgery and struggling with my recovery, my GP recommended the walking group and I met with the two gentlemen running the course and was accepted.
At first I was sceptical as I felt it might be more suited only to those who were experiencing anxiety and/or depression, which I didn’t feel I was.
I started the course and the gentle encouragement of the leaders and camaraderie of the other group members was a great tonic.
Group discussions, which were encouraged by the leaders but led by the members was extremely revealing for me (about myself). I discovered I was suffering from my own anxieties, as a result of losing my physical confidence, due the surgery.
Stronger every week
Each week I became stronger physically, and having the knowledge that I was with people who were not going to judge or push me beyond my capabilities was enormously helpful.
The environment was a revelation, just being shown how to be more mindful of my surroundings brought with it a calmness and a self-awareness which I had not previously experienced.
The whole experience was extremely valuable, helpful and enjoyable. I found out things about myself (as well as others) and just being allowed, and positively, encouraged to take time for oneself was a lesson I shall always take forward in my life.
Had to be outside
I truly would not have gone to this group had it taken place in doors. The fact that we were walking and enjoying the outdoors meant I did not feel threatened or trapped in any way.
I looked forward to the walking experience and being outside. I know if that had not been the case I would have dreaded the sessions. What I didn’t expect was how much it made me realise I had not valued the benefits of the outdoors before.
Being married to a farmer I am outdoors a lot of the time, but never to just enjoy the sounds, smells and sights in the same way. The entire experience was a very positive one. I would add that without the professional guidance of the leaders I do not feel the outcome would have been the same.”